The Ultimate Guide To Mobile Advertising

    Fact checked by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and… Read more

    Edited by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and…Read more

    mobile advertising

    A Six Sigma black belt, Sarah writes regularly on business and project management, marketing and technology. When she's not working with local youth or writing...Read more

    It’s no secret that we think building natural relationships with your readers, audience or consumer base is critical to digital publishing success. One great complement to trustworthy, interesting content is mobile advertising, which is a cost-effective way to increase exposure and drive more people to your site. If you’re engaging in any type of online marketing or advertising online, then mobile matters.

    As of June 2015, there were more than 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions active across the globe; by 2020, that number is expected to exceed 6 billion, overtaking traditional landlines and continuing the information revolution. In short, mobile advertising matters because we’re on the move, and to reach consumers, advertisers and marketers have to get moving too.

    What is Mobile Advertising?

    Mobile advertising is any advertising that is delivered through, shown on or viewed using mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Those ads can take many forms, and they may reach consumers through a number of different channels, including but not limited to:

    • Short message service (SMS) – A fancy name for texting, SMS is a way to advertise a business directly to consumers by sending information to their mobile devices.
    • Multimedia messaging service (MMS) – Similar to SMS but rather than pure text and hyperlinks, these messages include embedded media files, such as audio, video, or graphics.
    • Banner ads – As the name suggests, banner ads are the long, banner-like graphics typically featured at the very top or bottom of a website.
    • Native ads – These ads mimic the appearance of whatever website or app they’re on, streamlining the look of the platform and improving the user experience.
    • Mobile video – These videos are typically shorter, and they usually play automatically when the user scrolls by or initiates an action, such as opening an app or web page.
    • Interactive ads – Also known as rich-media ads, this option offers endless creativity and generates high user engagement.
    • Social media ads – Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have their own ad management systems, with formatting and algorithms specifically designed to target mobile users.
    • Push notifications – Marketers use push notifications, which pop up on a user’s mobile device, to alert consumers to everything from more lives for their mobile games to a time-sensitive deal in their food delivery apps.

    Mobile Advertising Statistics

    A quick look at mobile advertising statistics:

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    • Some 80 percent of internet users are surfing the web using their smartphones. (source)
    • Consumers in the United States are already viewing digital media on their mobile devices at a higher rate versus desktop computers, 51 percent on mobile versus just 42 percent on desktop. (source)

    What do consumers use their mobile devices to do? According to one survey:

    • The vast majority (99.5 percent) use their devices to look up information or access other content.
    • Just over 63 percent browse the internet.
    • Approximately 62 percent check their email.
    • Nearly half (49.2 percent) listen to music.
    • Forty-six percent play games.
    • Some 42 percent use mobile apps.
    • A growing 15 percent shop.
    • A full 15 percent use their mobile devices to read digital books.

    Mobile video statistics

    • Though mobile videos are generally associated with the short-form content, 36 percent of mobile users say they watch long-form videos (those 5 minutes or longer in length) at least once per day. (source)
    • Approximately 65 percent of the world’s population are known as visual learners, meaning they process and retain information more efficiently when it’s presented using graphics or video. (source)

    Mobile ad spend statistics

    • By the end of 2016, mobile ad spend was expected to top $100 billion worldwide. (source)
    • By 2018, mobile ad spending in the United States alone is projected to reach in excess of $158.5 billion. (source)
    • Despite the fact the mobile media is consumed at a rate similar to internet and TV, advertisers spend less than 10 percent on mobile compared to what they spend advertising via other digital platforms. (source)

    Mobile Advertising types

    Mobile app/game advertising

    Somewhat surprisingly, mobile users spend as much as 90 percent of their device time in mobile apps rather than on the web. That gives marketers a built-in — and some would say captive — audience eager for content. That audience is also ready and willing to watch a video, click on a link or stare at an ad for a few seconds in exchange for more lives, advancing to a new level or unlocking a coveted in-app feature.

    The disproportionate amount of time consumers spend using apps is both an opportunity and a challenge for marketers. The opportunity is clear; showcase your product or service to a targeted audience (often selected according to the theme of the app or a game’s user base) in a way that is both interesting and memorable. The challenge is finding ways to engage users without frustrating them with interrupted gameplay or visuals that obscure app function.

    In-app ads include several of the mobile advertising forms mentioned above, including auto-play videos, sponsored posts, pop-up ads, and banners. While static ads and pop-ups are quick, easy and affordable to produce, the best mobile ads seem to be ones that surprise consumers and/or encourage interaction. One example is a 2012 campaign from a Brazilian car insurance company called Bradesco. Its ad, which ran exclusively in iPad magazines, featured a car that covered the screen. When users tried to swipe by, the car was dragged along with the user’s finger, crashing into the side of the screen and prompting a pop-up message that read, “Unexpected events happen without warning. Make a Bradesco car insurance plan.”

    To create a mobile app advertising strategy that’s as compelling as Bradesco’s:

    • Design ads using responsive technology so that the size, shape, and content of the ad adapts to the parameters of the device it’s on.
    • Give users a clear exit strategy. For example, make the little “x” they use to minimize a pop-up ad easy to see and click even on small mobile devices.
    • Integrate the ad into an overall brand marketing strategy.
    • Evoke emotions such as whimsy, humor, and nostalgia. Those feelings promote engagement and inspire users to learn more about the product or service in question and help shift their focus from the game or app to the advertised content.
    • Give users a way to take action and/or earn a reward. This may be a click-to-share link, a way to schedule an event in their mobile calendars or a quick in-ad game that unlocks a coupon.
    • Don’t skimp on the visuals. You have mere seconds to capture interest, and the best way to do that is through clean-cut ads with striking graphics and minimal, easy-to-read text.

    Google advertising

    Google mobile advertising, in particular, Google AdWords, is one of the most popular pay-per-click (PPC) ad formats in the entirety of digital and mobile marketing. Google AdWord’s reputation for helping businesses expand their customer base and convert leads at a rapid pace has meant huge revenue for the company — they pulled in $51.81 billion in global ad revenue in 2015 alone.

    First, what is pay-per-click advertising? PPC is a form of internet marketing that only requires advertisers to pay when someone clicks on their ads. Whereas search engine optimization (SEO) and other marketing efforts might boost traffic organically, PPC is a way to pay for increased traffic while also targeting specific demographics.

    Google AdWords works by rating potential ads using a so-called “Quality Score.” This score considers things like the keywords an advertiser used, what landing page any links in the ad are pointing to, the quality of the content on that landing page and how relevant the ad is to the search results it accompanies. For marketers, the chance to target ads to a very focused customer base is exciting. The downside is that there is a lot of competition for ad ranking and some keyword sets.

    It’s difficult to mount a competitive mobile advertising strategy without incorporating Google advertising, but the ads must be done correctly, using keyword planning and research. Otherwise, businesses may pay for ads that bring in customers who aren’t interested in the product or service. Google has its own keyword tool, called Keyword Planner. It’s free and an ideal place for advertisers new to keywords (and internet advertising in general) to learn the ropes. Understanding keywords are essential to success, too; paid search ad spend jumped 24 percent from September 2015 to October 2015, growth largely driven by ads using keywords like “black Friday.”

    Need-to-know tips for Google advertising:

    Build a keyword list that includes relevant terms and phrases without being overly broad. For example, “women’s shoes” won’t differentiate an ad enough from the competition, but “women’s handmade shoes in Atlanta” (a good example of a long-tail keyword) will attract a smaller but more well-suited demographic.
    Create different ad sets to target different groups. One specifically crafted for teenagers, for instance, may look drastically different from an ad intended to attract the elderly.
    Test ads to see which version (in terms of keywords as well as design) converts before going full-blast with a campaign.
    Don’t worry about misspellings or trying to include multiple variations of words, such as high heels, heels, high heel. Google’s algorithm is built to automatically understand user intent.

    Local/location-based advertising

    Location-based advertising is one of the newest and most intriguing additions to the mobile marketing toolkit. While the technology itself has been around for several years, many marketers were unsure how to use it to their advantage.

    In essence, local advertising involves targeting ads to consumers in a certain geographic location. Location-based advertising is often tied to terms like geo-marketing or geo-targeting, both of which refer to the fact that the ads use the user’s position to deliver marketing materials from nearby advertisers, or geo-fencing, which describes the invisible boundaries a store might use to identify consumers’ proximity. When mobile users opt-in to GPS positioning services and leave apps running in the background, those apps are able to “see” where those users are.

    How can businesses capitalize on this functionality? The possibilities are practically endless:

    • Retail stores send out “one hour only” 20 percent discount to shoppers who are walking by at that very moment.
    • Restaurants experiencing a lull at the bar send out happy hour specials to tempt hungry diners who are nearby.
    • Food companies draw in shoppers using mobile ads showcasing a newly stocked product (bonus points for including a digital coupon).
    • Amusement parks use a GPS-enabled app to guide visitors around the park grounds, directing them towards vendors and gift shops.
      Casinos encourage gamblers already on the premises to visit the rewards center and sign up for a loyalty card.
    • Consumers using a search engine to find a nearby dry cleaners see an adjacent ad for Lucky Kleen, which is located just down the street.
    • Local advertising may also refer to ads that appear in users’ social media feeds or alongside search engine results based on either the geographic location or location-related keywords. Those keywords may be city names, street names, neighborhoods or ZIP codes.
    • Local mobile advertising brings the global reach of mobile marketing back home again, harnessing the power of the internet to drive business to brick-and-mortar businesses. It’s remarkably effective, too: more than 50 percent of customers who used their smartphones to conduct a local search ended up visiting one of the stores featured in the results within just one day.

    A few tips we use to make location-based advertising more effective:

    • Never underestimate the conversion power of a coupon, deal or discount.
    • Use analytic tools to gauge the efficacy of location-based ads and fine-tune your campaigns.
    • Optimize your site for local search.
    • Register with and submit your site data to search engines that emphasize local search, including Google, Bing, Localeze, Yelp, Yahoo, and SuperPages.com.
    • Encourage users to opt in for a location-based experience by giving them access to something special in return.
    • Add fire to grassroots location-based marketing by allowing guests to check-in and share their locations with followers on social media.
    • Use geofencing and corporate partnerships to cross-promote products and services to consumers visiting area businesses. For example, you may send an ad for tanning services to gym goers or advertise a car service to people at a popular bar.

    Mobile Advertising trends

    Though mobile advertising has already seen enormous growth, the next few years promise even bigger developments as marketers explore new mobile advertising trends and discover innovative ways to connect with consumers.

    Social media is a potential powerhouse for mobile advertisers

    Under the masterful watch of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has jumped on digital marketing in a major way. Much of its ad strategy is centered around mobile, with ads positioned to reach users who sign on using their smartphones or tablets. Facebook also changed the algorithms behind its newsfeed and what users see from pages they have “liked,” making sponsored posts and ads one of the only ways businesses can reach new and potential followers. In return, Facebook has seen a massive jump in ad revenue, posting 57 percent growth (from $3.3 billion to $5.2 billion) in the first quarter of 2016, of which mobile ads accounted for about 80 percent.

    Ad-block software is increasing in popularity

    As mobile marketing continues to gain traction, consumers are becoming more annoyed with pop-up ads that won’t close and lengthy videos that derail their gameplay. As of 2015, there were some 198 million people using ad-blocking software, costing publishers a jaw-dropping $22 billion in the process. The problem with ad-blocking software is that, while it may seem convenient to consumers in the short term, companies who have to find costlier ways to advertise end up either restricting free content, passing increased marketing costs down to customers or both. Expect to see workarounds, such as messages that pop up on websites before ad-blocking software engages, so users can opt back in to support specific sites or apps, and gated content that’s accessible only if ad-blockers are disabled.

    Reality-based ad content

    The meteoric rise of Snapchat has brought user-generated stories back into the spotlight and advertisers are taking notice. Mobile advertisements are growing more relatable as marketers use short video clips, how-tos, and user reviews to highlight the features and benefits of their products. Rather than relying on celebrity endorsements, mobile ads are leaning more toward influencer marketing [LINK TO FUTURE GUIDE]. By partnering up with people whose skill sets are known throughout the industry in question, brands piggyback on those influencers’ reputations and gain visibility with their existing audience.

    Mobile messaging: the newest way to pitch mobile users

    Once upon a time, SMS ads were considered cutting-edge, but now companies are using social media messaging to deliver timely responses to consumers who already have chat apps installed on their phones. Technological advancements — including software that intuits users’ needs and replicates human speech patterns — have made Autobots a more viable way to advertise (whether outright or disguised as customer service), but they are not without issue. There have already been instances of autobot fails where the bots have either failed to sense sarcasm, been triggered into replying to vulgar Tweets or sent inappropriate responses after failing to properly understand the initial message. Failure to fix these problems can damage a brand’s reputation, but those who figure out how to use mobile messenger and marketing automation as part of their advertising strategies will have a distinct advantage.

    Top Mobile Advertising platforms

    Google Admob Ads

    This is arguably the top name in mobile advertising platforms, unsurprising, considering the behemoth that is Google advertising in general. The platform’s Firebase Analytics helps users scale at light speed, and Google’s commitment to optimal user experience means that ads are easy to create and generate positive responses from consumers.


    InMobi claims to have a reach that includes 1 billion unique users in 200 countries, an audience exceeded only by the juggernaut that is Facebook. The InMobi network includes more than 40,000 apps that combine for a reported 2.6 billion monthly downloads. It’s undoubtedly a huge potential customer base, and with highly personalized ads and plenty of “discover zones” to help advertisers hone in on specific groups, there’s great potential for increased conversions and customer retention.


    BrightRoll is an industry leader in mobile video advertising. The platform provides tons of options for optimization, audience segmentation, and design, and there is plenty of analytics to help advertisers scale rapidly without sacrificing ad quality or user engagement.


    GumGum offers just two mobile-friendly ad formats, which keeps things simple for clients and consumers alike. Ads are designed to hover over editorial images and may be animated. They eventually either collapse to the bottom of the page or linger as a static banner, allowing them to be seen without obscuring the main content. GumGum has a deal with Time Inc., which gives advertisers access to the publisher’s vast network of affiliated publications.


    Marketers using 4INFO can hone in on consumers based on their past purchasing habits. The platform also helps users track the ROI of campaigns as they progress.


    Customization is the name of the game at Kargo. They’ve developed over 75 different ad formats designed to reflect the brand story and personality of publishers like Billboard, Corona and Tic Tac. Ads are pricey but beautiful, and Kargo guarantees 80 percent viewability.


    Of particular interest to companies specializing in eCommerce, Shoppable helps advertisers turn mobile ads into purchasing opportunities. Rather than navigate from an ad to a website to a virtual shopping cart, consumers can add multiple products from multiple ads to one centralized cart (courtesy of Shoppable) and check out using a single transaction.


    Consumers often flit between their devices, causing advertisers to lose traction. Drawbridge minimizes this issue by optimizing campaigns across multiple platforms, so use activity is linked — albeit anonymously — as they jump from smartphone to tablet to laptop.

    While some people are happy to talk about mobile advertising as the future of marketing, we know that the future is already here. Brands that choose to embrace this user-friendly method are bound to see just how effective and efficient mobile advertising truly is — especially when it’s coupled with content and branding that naturally reaches the target audience.



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